Eclectic Cardiologist Focuses on Helping Patients Feel Comfortable

Jonathan Fialkow, MD, FACC, is one of the founders of Heartwell, LLP, a cardiologist physician group. And his attraction to medicine in general, and cardiology in particular, was formed early on.

Every morning as part of his regular routine, south Florida resident Jonathan Fialkow, MD, FACC, reads The New York Times and The New York Post. He does this despite having relocated from New York to Miami by choice 30 years ago.

“It’s not an indictment of Miami,” Fialkow laughs. “It’s an indictment of me. I’m still a New Yorker. I have a satellite dish so I can see all New York sports teams.”

That enthusiasm and support for New York sports has rubbed off on his son, Jeremy Fialkow, a journalism major at the University of Maryland. The younger Fialkow writes a blog called New Yorker at Heart, focused on the travails of a New York sports fan living in south Florida.

“Which he clearly got from his father,” Fialkow adds. “One of the worst legacies I gave my son was to make him a fan of New York sports teams.”

He could do a lot worse.

Strong influences

Fialkow is one of the founders of Heartwell, LLP, a cardiologist physician group. And his attraction to medicine in general, and cardiology in particular, was formed early on.

When Fialkow was 11 years old, his father experienced a cerebral artery aneurysm. There were some physicians and nurses, Failkow recalls, who treated his family in a very supportive manner, while others were much more callous. Later, when Fialkow was in high school, his father had a massive heart attack requiring transfer to a hospital for emergency surgery followed by six weeks in intensive care.

“Certain amounts of information that were given to us by one person would make you just totally fearful and frightful and add anxiety and poor understanding,” Fialkow says of the experience. “And the same information was able to be given by someone else in a much more explaining, empathetic, and supportive way. And I remember having conversations with my mother that I wanted to be the person who was more empathetic, who looked at a person as a patient and not as a disease.”

There were no doctors in the family, so the impact of his interaction with healthcare providers during his father’s illnesses was powerful. That’s part of what Fialkow loves about cardiology.

“You have these direct relationships with the patients,” he explains. “Many of the patients, you follow them and their family for their lifetime. That’s what drives me the most.”

A skeptic’s eye

Fialkow acknowledges that he will educate staff, patients, friends, and family—essentially anyone who will listen—on the virtues of nutrition, wellness, and cardiovascular disease prevention. But, he adds, as a certified clinical lipidologist, he does so from a skeptic’s eye.

“We kind of go back to what drives our bodies,” he says. “And go back to biochemistry and simple things you learn in undergrad and medical school that the doctors just get completely removed from over the years.”

Doing so, he says, enables him to open his mind not just to broader ways of helping patients, but relationships as well.

“Why do three diseases happen in the same person?” he asks, rhetorically. “Because they’re not three different diseases. They’re all caused by an underlying abnormality that might be a nutritional aspect or hormonal aspect. I see patterns where other people see things in silos.”

He also questions conventional wisdom, something he says most doctors don’t do.

“We’ve been told to do this, but why? Does it really work? Where did the data come from to support this?” Fialkow says. “And you realize a lot of things we do in medicine are not predicated on any kind of scientific discovery, but just the way it has been for so long.”

Eclectic man

Fialkow not only thinks outside the box in his medical career, he lives outside the box in his regular life, and has clearly had an impact on those around him. One of his colleagues said that he is “crazily well-rounded and cannot be categorized”—a definition Fialkow does not dispute.

For example, he has a wide range of tastes in music. In June he and his wife flew to New York to see a performance by Stone Roses, a seminal British band from the late 1980s with “one major album.” Fialkow describes it as a bucket list item, and credits—or blames—much of his musical interests to as high school job working at Sam Goody, a music retailer that closed most of its stores in 2006.

“I worked in the music department, and one of the benefits was we were able to listen to demo records and open things up,” he recalls. “I would listen to not the best-selling albums, but more obscure things that came in, and gain an appreciation for the less heavily marketed parts of the industry.”

And for music usually targeted to a younger age group. Several years ago, during a delay on a flight to New York, Fialkow pulled out his phone and called up Apples in Stereo, an American rock band. A young girl sitting next to him noticed, and asked, “How do you know Apples in Stereo? That’s a young person’s band.”

“What can I say?” Fialkow says. “My playlists are kind of crazy.”

Being comfortable

Fialkow often plays music in his office, everything from The Beatles to Vampire Weekend to indie rock. He believes it fosters a better element in the office.

“When people are seeing a doctor, especially a cardiologist, they’re generally nervous and worried,” he explains. “I do whatever I can to decrease that anxiety and make it a more comfortable environment. I think playing music adds to that.”

And that, Fialkow says, is the most rewarding part of the work he does—making people comfortable.

“I think so much of our society causes anxiety,” he says. “When I can take scared people and give them the support to know that there’s no reason to be scared, or we can take care of it, that’s the part (of my work) that would really be hard for me to give up.”